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State registers highest number of custodial deaths

Monday, July 28, 2014

While thirty-five persons died in police-lockups in Maharashtra last year, not a single policeman was charge sheeted or convicted for the custodial deaths, writes Gajanan Khergamker

Once again, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reflected that custodial death is a matter of concern that needs to be looked into, especially in Maharashtra. Maharashtra has, once again, topped the nation when it comes to custodial deaths.

Maharashtra tops nation with most custodial deaths
According to the NCRB report, 35 people died in police lockups in Maharashtra in 2013. Of these, only one of them was remanded in police custody by a court. Maharashtra is succeeded by Tamil Nadu that claimed 15 lives followed by Gujarat, where it was 13.

 Custodial death has always been serious human right issue and looking at past statistics, Maharashtra has topped the list of states having the ‘most number of custodial deaths’ - 10 out of 13 times.

According to the latest NCRB report, autopsies were conducted on all the 35 people who died in custody of which magisterial inquiries were held in 5 of the deaths and cases were registered in two. However, no policemen were charge-sheeted or convicted.

‘Suspected naxalite’s next of kin should get compensation’
Just recently, the National Human Rights Commission had recommended the Chhattisgarh government pay Rs. five lakh as monetary relief to the next of kin of Pudiyami Mada, a suspected Naxalite, who died due to police torture while in illegal custody from the January 9th 2012 to January 13th 2012. The Chief Secretary of the state has been asked to submit a compliance report along with proof of payment within eight weeks.

The Commission, on the basis of a news report, had taken up the matter. The report said that Mada had committed suicide in police custody on 13th January 2012. When asked, the police pinned the blame on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) alleging that CRPF had detained Mada and tortured him a few days before the state police took him in their custody.

After the NHRC notices, the State government provided various reports, including the Magisterial Enquiry Report, which confirmed that Pudiyami Mada died in police custody. Based on the reports, it was also speculated that Mada might have committed suicide during custody because of the torture that may have been inflicted upon him from the 9th to 13th January, 2012 when he was, allegedly, in illegal custody.

The magisterial enquiry report suggested the police kept him in custody in spite of having being remanded to the judicial custody and the fear of torture might have triggered his suicide. The enquiry report also observed that death in custody was a case of security lapse and the officials responsible should be made answerable.

184 died in custody between 1990-2007 in Gujarat: RTI
In 2012, an RTI application inquiring about the cause of death of people in Gujarat jails revealed 184 people died while in police or judicial custody from 1990-2007. The reply suggested that nine were killed in police firing and three were murdered while they were in the security of either police lock-up or jail. Heart failure was the reason behind of 28 custodial deaths reported. A total of 28 people reportedly killed themselves while in police custody.

In November 2013, the Supreme Court has viewed seriously the ineffective implementation of a series of directions to curb custodial deaths and sought explanations from the Centre and States after being informed that nearly 12,000 persons died either in jail or in police stations in five years.

Amicus curiae A M Singhvi had moved an application seeking implementation of 15 more guidelines to clamp down on custodial excesses, which has resulted in the death of 11,820 and 3,532 reported cases of custodial torture between 2007 and 2012.

SC talks tough, demands action from government
A bench of Justices S S Nijjar and F M I Kalifulla Singhvi said, “Despite repeated judgements and directions passed by the Supreme Court in the writ petition D K Basu, which has been pending for last 27 years, laying down guidelines for prevention of custodial violence and deaths, implementation by various states appears to be extremely lax.”

In the application was listed eight judgments and orders of the apex court, last of which was passed on May 7, 2003 and said another gory dimension to “the senseless exhibition of superiority and physical power over the one who is already overpowered” had been added by the spurt in custodial rape cases.
Reportedly, the National Human Rights Commission had registered 39 cases of rape in judicial and police custody from 2006 to 2010.

In another case of custodial death case that made a lot of furore was when a Gurgaon resident died in judicial custody under mysterious circumstances. In 2013, three years after the police made no progress in investigating the case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court asked the police why the investigation of the case shouldn’t be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Police play blame game in custodial death case
Apparently, 40-year-old Krishan Kumar was found dead in judicial custody just a day after he was sent to jail by a Gurgaon court in January 2010. In reports, the jail officials claimed he had died of a heart attack. But Kumar’s family alleged foul play and approached Deputy Commissioner. Kumar’s wife alleged that her husband was killed because his brother was ‘about to uncover a fake vote racket which involved politicians’ in 2008.’

A magisterial enquiry was ordered on the basis of his wife’s allegations. The magisterial report suggested “the matter needs thorough investigation from some independent / impartial agency as there seems to be indulgence of senior political bosses, superior police officers, jail authorities, doctors and others.”

When, two years after the report came out and no action was taken, Kumar’s wife petitioned in High Court requesting a CBI investigation. She even presented photographs of Kumar’s body she had acquired through an RTI application, in the court. Reportedly, the photographs revealed injury marks on Kumar’s body.

Four years on, Prevention of Torture Bill still pending
It has been over four years since the cabinet had approved a proposal to introduce the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010. But, so far, nothing has materialised.
In June 2014, a 35-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a cop in the presence of his subordinate in a police station in Hamirpur district in Uttar Pradesh. The incident took place when the woman went to the police station to seek her husband’s release who had been picked u p by cops after a country-made pistol was seized from him.

The policemen allegedly demanded a bribe from the woman which she apparently refused to pay. She was then reportedly raped by the Station House Officer of the police station. The three constables present did not intervene. After the incident was reported, the SHO was arrested and the three constables were removed from duty.

99.99 pc death in custody because of torture:  Chamka
 “About 99.99 per cent of deaths in police custody can be ascribed to torture and occur within 48 hours of the victims being taken into custody. Though Maharashtra has a total population of 112 million in comparison to 199 million in Uttar Pradesh according to 2011 census, the fact that 76 more persons were killed in police custody in Maharashtra shows that torture is more rampant in police custody in Maharashtra than Uttar Pradesh,” said Asian Centre for Human Rights Director Suhas Chamka had said during the release of ACHR report ‘Torture in India 2011.’

The numbers haven’t changed much since then. Even today Maharashtra tops the chart of custodial deaths and the actions taken relatively are not on par. The new government will need to look into the matter of custodial deaths and work towards its preventions. Ratification of the United Nation Prevention of Torture Bill can be the first step in this direction.

Gujarat to install CCTV cameras in all police stations
Recently, the Gujarat police department informed Gujarat High Court that it will be installing CCTV cameras in all its police stations within four months. It was in 2012 the High Court had asked the police department to install CCTV cameras in police stations to curb violence. Adopting this strategy for every state in the country will be an effective way to curb custodial deaths.

(With inputs from Prerna Pandey)

Custodial deaths owing to torture, gross HR violation

  • In Maharashtra, 35 people died in police lockups in Maharashtra in 2013.
  • Though Maharashtra has a total population of 112 million in comparison to 199 million in Uttar Pradesh according to 2011 census, 76 more persons were killed in police custody in Maharashtra
  • In 2012, an RTI application inquiring about the cause of death of people in Gujarat jails revealed 184 people died while in police or judicial custody from 1990-2007.
  • The National Human Rights Commission had registered 39 cases of rape in judicial and police custody from 2006 to 2010.
  • In June 2014, a 35-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a cop in the presence of his subordinate in a police station in Hamirpur district in Uttar Pradesh

Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to rti@draftcraft.in or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured on this page

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